– by Nico Bougas
Jesus told of a man who came knocking at his neighbour’s house at midnight. He was desperate, his friend had just arrived, and he had no food to set before him. He asked him to lend him three loaves of bread. His first impulse was to tell the man to go away, yet because of the man’s persistence, he got up and gave him the necessary food just to get rid of him.
Hospitality was crucial
If a friend arrived at midnight from a long journey – he had probably spent the whole day walking through the hot desert sand. The fact that he arrived at midnight probably meant that he had lost his way. He was exhausted and famished. In those times – particularly in the Middle East – hospitality played a very important role in people’s lives. It was unthinkable to turn a stranger away who asked for hospitality, let alone at midnight. That is why he was so persistent and took the trouble of inconveniencing his neighbour.
He got what he wanted
In those times, people lived in one-roomed houses. Mother, father, and children all lived in one room and slept on mats on the floor. The neighbour would not only have woken the man of the house; he would have disrupted the whole family. It was a dreadful inconvenience, but because the man persisted, he got what he wanted – even if the man’s motive was just to keep him quiet.
God wants to answer our prayers
Does this parable mean that God is a reluctant neighbour and a drowsy person who has to be hounded and nagged until He gives in? Must we beg, plead, and grovel in the dust until He finally gives in and drops some crumb of mercy to keep us quiet? No, Jesus is teaching exactly the opposite. He says clearly that God is not like that sleepy, reluctant neighbour. God gives willingly, freely, and without fail. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Luke 11:9
He welcomes our requests
Unlike the sleepy neighbour, God welcomes our requests. He, in fact, invites us to ask, “Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” – James 4:2.”Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” – Jeremiah 33:3. There is no midnight with God, there is never an inconvenient time. He is always willing to hear our requests and He wants to meet our needs. And unlike the sleepy neighbour, He is always able to meet our needs.
He is able
It is important to realise that the prospect of your prayers being answered is totally dependent upon the one you petition. You might come to me and tell me that you need a hundred million rand desperately. You could plead and beg me continually for a whole week, a month, a year, ten years, or whatever. But you don’t have a chance of getting that money from me. You are petitioning someone who has no power or capacity to answer you.
Who are you pleading to?
When the prophets of Baal were beseeching their god to send fire to their altar, they cried all morning. “O Baal send fire!” But there was no fire. About moon Elijah said, “Guys, I bet the problem is that your god has gone someplace. Or else he’s sleeping. Why don’t you cry a little louder? Maybe then he will hear you.” They started to cry louder, and soon they were cutting themselves and leaping on the altar to get Baal’s attention. They could have gone on forever, and still no fire would have come down to consume their sacrifice. Why? Because Baal has no capacity to answer.
Idols produce emptiness
You may make a god of money, pleasure, or intellect – and find they simply produce emptin0ess. In the hour of real need, these gods can produce nothing. But when I cry to Jehovah, the God of Israel, then I know He is able to do far more than I could ever ask or think. There is no end to God’s power. When I cry to Him, He is able to meet my needs. It is nothing for God to meet my need, no matter what is might be.
Why should I bring a request to God a second, third, or fourth time and continually repeat the same request? Isn’t once enough? Why pray at all, since He knows our needs even before we tell Him? We ask, and we ask with persistence, not because we understand all the reasons, but because Jesus taught us to pray in this way.
Jesus taught us to persist in prayer
Whether through continued praise or continued asking, we must remind God persistently about many of our requests – day after day, week after week, year after year – until the answer comes. Both Scripture and the great men of prayer throughout the centuries have emphasised the importance of such persistence.
A rich personal experience
Why has God made prayer, and often persistent prayer, a requirement for receiving His benefits? Is it that we must take Him more desirous of blessing us? No, God longs to give us good things. But He longs for more. He wants an intimate relationship with us in which we love and seek Him, a relationship characterised by a childlike dependence and a thankful spirit. And He wants to enrich us with something infinitely more valuable than the specific gifts we request – a rich personal experience of Himself.
Why doesn’t God always respond immediately?
Many of us would bypass these deeper blessings of dependence and fellowship if the Lord automatically provided all our needs without our asking, or with our asking only once. God foresaw this and planned accordingly. He made prayer not an optional luxury, but a prescribed way for us to draw near to Him, rather than neglect Him. And as we pray, wait, and keep on praying – we receive the eventual answers with a deeper experience of His presence and goodness.
We won’t change God’s Will
Persistent prayer does not change God’s Will, but it is often His way of accomplishing His Will, and it does change us. Delayed answers that require persistence help us grow. They increase our trust in God, and we come to Him again and again and see the perfect timing of His answers and His faithfulness. They develop our perseverance and character, and help us overcome impatience.
Time to clarify and redirect
Continued praying can help us relax and wait for God’s perfect time and plan. And should the request need modifying, this becomes obvious as we wait and pray. The delay enables us to clarify or redirect our petition. We are to pray persistently, not to change God’s Will, but to see it done. We pray not to overcome God’s unwillingness, but because God has ordained prayer as His way to provide and act for us. If we fail to pray, we cause Him to withhold many of the blessings He longs to bestow.
Persistence or repetition
People sometimes wonder how persistent prayers fit with Matt 6:7, which warns against being repetitious as the heathen are. In many non-Christian religions, the name of a god or a brief prayer is repeated hundreds of times a day, with the belief that mentioning the god’s name or saying the magical sentence builds up merit or obtains answers. Some years ago, Time Magazine told of a man who had decided to repeat the Lord’s prayer 3000 times a day to bring world peace. Either he stopped too soon, or had the wrong formula, for a later issue of Time reported that 28 wars were currently in progress. Jesus warns against empty, useless repetitions. They differ vastly from thoughtful, meaningful repetition based on the Word of God. Bold and patient persistence is taught by Jesus Christ, emphasised in other Scriptures, and has been proven in the lives of the great men of prayer, as well as in our own experience.
Three levels of prayer
Jesus suggests that there are three levels of prayer: ask, seek, and knock. The circumstances of each are vastly different, but the answer is always the same. The simplest is “ask”. Asking implies humility and consciousness of need. James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…” But we have to ask in faith. All God’s gifts are given to faith, not to unbelief. Faith takes the answer for granted. God loves to be trusted, but only faith can lay hold of what He gives. When faith is there, the need is invariably met.
Prayer through seeking
A second level of prayer is “seek”. Seeking is asking plus acting. It implies earnest petitioning, but that alone is not sufficient. A person must be active in endeavouring to obtain the fulfilment of their needs. Seeking is a process. Jesus says some areas of life require more than asking: there must be searching. Something is hidden from us, and prayer then becomes a search, a plea for insight. Again, the answer is absolutely certain. “Seek, and you will find.” We need not be uncertain in these perplexing areas of life where the final solution is long delayed. In such instances, the answer is found in seeking.
Prayer through knocking
A third level of prayer involves “knocking”. Both time and repetition are involved. It is asking plus acting plus persevering. One knocks again and again until the door is opened. One continues to knock at the door of the kingdom palace until the King, who is at the same time the Father, opens the door and supplies whatever is needed.
The final outcome
Prayer is not simply asking; prayer is also seeking and knocking. We must keep persevering in prayer. Everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it is opened.
Ask and you shall receive
Abraham prayed and a nation was born; Moses prayed and the sea was parted; Joshua prayed and the sun stood still; Elijah prayed and there was a drought in the land, he prayed again and the heavens opened; Daniel prayed and the mouth of the lions was closed. Who knows what will happen when you begin to pray, you have not because you ask not, ask and you shall receive.
JOY! Magazine (January 2019)